Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part One -- "Who Am I?" (an IWM post)

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
Oscar Wilde

The search for self is central to the human condition. Selfhood is our first great struggle in life. Differentiation. "Who am I?" "Why am I?" I am not just an extension of my mother and/or my father. Okay, well, after potty training, the struggle to establish an independent identity, to become "me," is our first great obstacle in life. Some people, perhaps most people, as Oscar Wilde says, never become "I;" they remain, in some form or another, "we" and "us."

Actually, that's a true thing that most people never really become themselves, but we'll get to that and the research around it later in this series. However, it is that thing, that thing where people are mostly other people that has always struck me about the Bible's use of the term "sheep" in its description of humanity. But I digress...

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To find out what I digress from, you'll have to follow the herd right over to Indie Writers Monthly. You know you don't want to be left out, so head on over.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How My First Novel Ended Up In The Trash

Considering that I have at least one post each week tied over to Indie Writers Monthly, I'm sure most of you realize that I write for that blog, too. There's a team of us over there and several posts a week, which may lead to the question: "Why is it called Indie Writers Monthly if there are weekly posts?" And that's, in that context, a very good question. One I'm not sure I've ever actually addressed here. I think Briane did over there, but I'm not sure how many of you follow along over there. Not many, based on the comments.

So why is it called Indie Writers Monthly?

Well, along with the blog, there is a monthly magazine. The magazine deals with various writing topics and, I think, is probably a pretty good resource for indie authors. Or, maybe, any authors. I mean, heck, I contribute to it, and I always have worthwhile stuff to say. Right? Right?
Hey! I don't hear you. I said, right?
Okay, that's better.
The September issue is out and is all about how to deal with negative reviews. In this issue I talk about my first ever novel and how a negative review prompted me to throw it in the trash (the novel, not the review), something I think all authors should avoid. I tell my creative writing students to never throw any of their writing away. Or delete it. There's always the potential for something to be useful later even if it's not working in the moment.

The issues are only $0.99, so you can get nearly all of them for less than a cuppa at Starbucks. I'd say that's a pretty good deal. Plus! The current issue also contains issue #1 as a FREE! extra, which is especially good, considering that the first issue is no longer available on its own.

To assist in your perusal, here are the links to each issue:
Issue 2 (April)
Issue 3 (May)
Issue 4 (June)
Issue 5 (July)
Issue 6 (August)
Issue 7 (September)
The Annual -- Contains 15 short stories about time travel. You should definitely give it a look.

The June issue not only contains an interview with me but my short story "The Day the Junebugs Came." Personally, I'd love for you to pick that one up and take a read through the story and, then, let me know what you think BY LEAVING A REVIEW.
And, hey, with this month's issue being about handling negative reviews, I'll know how to respond no matter what you think of the story, right? As I said, it's less than a buck, and you can probably read the issue on your lunch break.

Aside from all of that, we're also accepting submissions. If you have some bit of writing advice you think authors would benefit from, send it in. But it doesn't have to be writing advice; it could also be a short story. Or poetry. Or whatever. We're not too picky about what we'll look at. Which is not to say that we'll just print anything, because we won't, but we're (mostly) willing to look. Or Briane is. Someone is.

There you go, a whole, semi-new writing resource I bet you really didn't even know about. Pick up a copy today!

Friday, September 12, 2014

"If it's not on the shelf..."

One of the summer jobs I had while I was in college was working at Toys R Us. I've mentioned that I worked there before, but I don't think I mentioned that I worked there on two separate occasions, the first being while I was in college. It... didn't go well.

See, there was a problem: I was too helpful. No, seriously. At the time, TRU had a policy about helping customers: We were allowed to take the customer to the place in the store where any given item ought to be but, if it wasn't there, we were to say, "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it." Even if there was a box of the item on the overstock shelf (on the aisle just above the items), we were to tell the customers that line. I couldn't bring myself to do it; it was virtually always a lie.

I got more commendations from customers than any other... oh, wait, I was the only employee that summer to have customers comment that I had done a good job to management. Enough so that it was brought up in a store meeting. And, yet, I was reprimanded for helping customers during my first performance review. During my second, I was told I "wasn't working out" and let go. Oh, yeah, also because I was "anti-social" and did things like read during my breaks rather than go outside and smoke with everyone else. [Yes, I was told that part of why I was being let go was non-work-related behavior. (And the not smoking was specifically mentioned.)]

Jump forward several years. I had moved to CA a few months before, and I needed a job. I needed a job like "right now." TRU was running an ad that they were hiring, so I went in. Yes, even having worked there before, I was willing to go. I needed the job. And I wasn't in LA anymore, so I was hoping things would be different.

And they were different. One of the things that had changed during my absence was a shift in corporate thought from "the customers get in the way of the job" to "the customer is the job." When I was hired in CA, I was told "the customer always comes first." It was a huge difference. So huge in fact that not only was I not "let go" after my "trial period" (or whatever it's called), I was promoted faster than anyone else working in that location. Basically, as soon as they were able to promote me (because TRU has policies about minimum times before someone can be promoted), they did. And again. And again. Until I quit (which is a long story and not applicable to this).

Which brings me to my point: I didn't change. I had the same attitude and behaviors working at TRU the second time as I did the first time. It was Toys R Us that changed. They changed what they were looking for in an employee, so I went from being someone who "wasn't working out" to someone who was very valuable (they tried to talk me into staying more than once when I quit). Oh, and I was still reading during my lunches and breaks, too.

If I had try to change who I was, the way I was, when I went and tried to get the job after I moved, I wouldn't have been right for it, and I would have been "let go" again because "it wasn't working out." Writing books works that way, too. If you spend your time trying to adapt to the market, trying to fit in with the current trend, you'll always be a step or two behind. You can't help but be, because you're too busy reacting to an organism that changes faster than anyone can keep up with. When you just do your thing, eventually, it will come into alignment with you.

At least for a while.

I'm sure that at some point (if it hasn't happened already), TRU will go back to their attitude that the customers are an evil which have to be endured, just as readers will one day go back to the attitude that vampires are an evil which have to be endured. [As my son would say, "See what I did there?"] Basically, trends change. Find your thing and stick with it.

And, if anyone ever tells you, "If it's not on the shelf, we don't have it," don't believe them. Right now, that's Target's line, but I make them go look.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the Tracks Don't Meet (or Travelling At the Speed of Plot) (an IWM post)

Have you seen that cartoon of the train tracks being laid? They're coming from two different directions, but there's a problem: The tracks don't meet up in the middle the way they are supposed to. I think there are a bunch of guys standing there scratching their heads. Or something.
Yeah, I would have liked to have posted the image here, but I couldn't find it. You'll just have to pretend.

Usually, where books are concerned, those kinds of things are called "plot holes," but, really, they're not the kinds of things I would call "holes." They're just pieces of... let's call them "discontinuity." I hate them more than the plot holes, I think. Oh, you need me to differentiate?

Okay, let's say your protagonist loses the keys to his car in chapter two but, in chapter five when he's running from the bad guys, he fumbles them out of his pocket: That's a plot hole. And that's not what I'm talking about in this post.

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If you want to find out what I am talking about, you'll have to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly. Oh, you want a hint? Fine, I'll give you a hint. It looks something like this:
Did that get your attention? Good. Now, go read the rest.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Marvelous Land of Oz (a book review post)

As I mentioned in my review of The Wizard of Oz, I didn't know the Oz books existed when I was  a kid, so I completely missed out on these until I was too old to be interested. Well, as a high-schooler, I wasn't interested. After finishing the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, I'm really starting to be disappointed that I missed these books when I was a kid. So far, they are pretty marvelous.

As a writer, one of the things I find most interesting about the series is that there was never supposed to be more than just the one book, the one everyone knows because of the movie. But there was a musical, stage version of Wizard done -- co-produced by Baum -- and the actors portraying the Tin Man and the Scarecrow were so good that people (kids, mostly) began requesting more stories about those two characters. Not about Dorothy, just about the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. The resulting book doesn't even mention the Cowardly Lion.

We also get a book that is much more blatantly about the politics of the day, specifically, the suffrage movement. Virtually every character other than the Tin Man and Scarecrow, which includes all of the "human" characters, are female. Which may be a statement to cause some confusion, considering the main character is a boy named Tip, but you'd have to read the book to understand.

I think I like this one more than Wizard. Well, actually, I do. The one big flaw of Wizard -- that Dorothy wanted to go home, a place she didn't like -- is hard for me to get over. This one has no flaw like that and is even more whimsical. Not to mention that the characters are much more real in this one.

In Wizard, the characters are all "happy happy joy joy" all the time, but that's not the case in Marvelous Land. They bicker. They bicker a lot. Some of them even seem not to like each other much, and the Saw Horse doesn't get along with anyone. Tip constantly threatens the Woggle Bug because of his punning, and Jack Pumpkinhead is... well, I like Jack, but he's a whiner. Most interesting, though, is the Tin Man. He's developed a serious case of vanity and has had himself nickel plated. He's still a nice guy, but he spends more time worrying about his shine than he spends worrying about his friends. Also, I like the contrast between the Woggle Bug, who has lots of knowledge, and the Scarecrow, who has Brains but not lots of facts. It's a bit of intelligence versus wisdom and, mostly, it shows us that we need both.

At the moment, two books in, I'm really enjoying the Oz books and will definitely continue to read them. If you know your history at all -- well, early 20th century history -- there is the added enjoyment of all the social commentary that's been thrown in. Hmm... That sounds haphazard. Weaved in is more like it. In all of the best ways, these books are like the classic Looney Tunes cartoons: Kids find them hilarious, but you can't really appreciate them until you're an adult.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Exploration in Fantasy -- Part Six: The Draw (an IWM post)

I suppose the real question is, "Why does all of this matter?" Of course, that's the real question for so many things, but let's just look at it in relation to fantasy for the moment. Why does it matter? Why should we care about fantasy or where it comes from?

And that could go in all kinds of directions and get all kinds of philosophical, but I want to look at it in relation to the fantasy model itself. You can find the list here.

So... Let's start with kids.

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But let's start with kids over on Indie Writers Monthly. Yeah, I know you know the drill.
I'll see you there. I better see you there.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Time Enough? (an IWSG post)

"People assume that time is a straight progression of cause to effect but, actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff."

Of course, what I want to do is get all philosophical about time, about how time is finite, about what it would be like to be able to step outside of time... Except I can't really imagine that. My view of time is kind of like a painting. Or, maybe, a movie. Time only exists within the movie and, if you could only step out of it, you could see the whole thing at once, be in any part of it. That kind of thing. Except, conceptually, as soon as I remove myself from the movie, I put myself in another one, because I still imagine a sequence of events and, without time, there can't be a sequence, so it's not something I can properly imagine.

None of that is what I really want to talk about anyway...

Sometimes, there are events that remind us of the finite-ness of time, that there will be an ending. At least, for us. Well, for all of time, but I expect TIME to go on much for much longer than I will. At any rate, the sudden departure of Tina Downey of Life Is Good from TIME has served as a reminder. Time is, after all, finite. There's a deadline on the things I want to accomplish in life.

I suppose most people have all sorts of things they want to accomplish and that they all feel like they have plenty of time in which to do it. There's always tomorrow, right? But there's not always tomorrow, and, sometimes, tomorrows quit coming sooner than we think they will.

I know that Tina was writing a book. Mostly, though, I think she was working on the writing skills she would need to really write the book. What it means, though, is that I'll never get to read the book. Neither will you. And, you know, maybe it wouldn't have been any good and, in the scheme of things, it doesn't matter, but, maybe, it would have been life-changing. For me. Or for you. Or for someone. That book that really inspired a life and changed its course.

We'll never know.

I have a lot of books like that. Unfinished ones, I mean; I'm not claiming that I'm writing great, life-changing, works of literature. I have PROJECTS! The idea that I could leave TIME with them unfinished... well, it kind of panics me. I don't want to leave things unfinished. Well, I don't want to leave these things unfinished. I'm sure I will always feel that way about whatever projects I have in the works, but other projects are in the future, and I have nothing invested in that stuff yet. These things, these things I have going on now, I know I don't want to leave still in progress. Especially the stuff that relates to The House on the Corner. Too many people ask me when the next when will be finished for me to be okay with just not doing it.

None of this is meant to change the focus from Tina's passing out of TIME, but it was one of the first things I thought of, "I'll never get to read her book." Which, then, has applications for all of us. Not just writers, all people who are doing things. Who have projects of whatever sort. Some of which sit around and sit around and are left abandoned for months or, even, years on end with the thought, "I'll get to it. Sometime." But "sometime" doesn't always come.

So... I am reminded to look at the things I want to do and evaluate them on the basis of what it's okay with me to leave unfinished. Like, I would like to spend time painting, but it won't really bother me if I leave TIME and there are big stack of unpainted miniatures in my garage. It's not like I'm the only one that could paint them. But no one can write the stories that are in my head. Even with notes about them, no one can write them the way I will, so that's the thing I need to get busy with, working on the things that only I can do so that they're not left unfinished should I have to leave.

And that's what I'm going to go do...